Canucks VP Hockey Operations Laurence Gillman has tweeted both Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond are recovering from their respective injuries ahead of schedule. Injuries aside these two and mikael samuelson are going to be relied upon to improve our secondary scoring, which was a no-show in the playoffs and below par in the regular season despite the teams impressive offensive and special units play.
I'd like to say I believe Samuelson can score 30 again and Raymond will improve on the 25 he got two seasons ago rather than continue to take steps backwards. The reality is both are coming off serious injuries and it is unlikely they will, and for the team chemistry and success they really shouldn't be expected to, although it would be a nice bonus.
Once healthy these two will bump Marco Sturm and Chris Higgins back to third line duty. Last year's third line was arguably the strength of the team. Janik Hansen's ability to play up and down the forward lines and bring his best effort every night were an intangible blessing. Manny Malhotra's stellar two way play and faceoff prowess are irreplacable, and a big contributor to the teams puck possession game. Perhaps the biggest hole to fill will be the physicality Raffi Torres brought.
All three exhibited very specific talents. Now with a revamped third line of Higgins, Malhotra (hopefully) and Sturm the Canucks almost have a 2A/2B line situation. I wouldn't be surprised to see the third line outscore the second, as forecasted that is.
The real benefit will be line matching challenges presented by the improved offensive depth. This will probably allow more opportunity for everyone to score as the Canucks drive opposing coaching staffs crazy with the veteran offenisve talent they can dole out shift after shift. Many are calling the canucks forwards turnover and health a detraction from last years' standing, but when you forecast their forward core when healthy it is much more potent, offensively atleast.
Sedin Sedin Burrows
Raymond Kesler Samuelson
Higgins Malhotra Sturm
Oreskovich Lapierre Hansen
The depth upfront is so strong that the spare parts (Hodgson, Schroeder, Ebbet, Mancari, Bitz, Nolan, Duco, Pinnizoto, Fedoruk, Sweatt, Volpati, Rodin, Begin) might actually be considered a better group than some other NHL teams' offensive options. Seriously, stack the group in brackets up against the forwards for Nashville, Ottawa, Phoenix to name a few.
The improvement offensively is best summized by the fact that Janik Hansen is potentially starting the season on the fourth line.
I can't deny that injuries may lead to a slow start, but this is a blessing in disguise as some of the fringe and depth players will get more opportunity to develop and showcase their skill while some of the veteran leaders heal up.
Hansen could seriously skate on the second line for the first quarter of the season. Watching his progression it is totally feasible that he not relinquish that role just because Samuleson or Raymond return. He has to be at the top of the list of forwards with the potential to surprise this season. Joining him would be Manny Malhotra who's assist numbers should jump with more offensively gifted wingers. Of course Alex Burrows starting the year healthy means he should regain 30 goal form (even though he was on 30 goal pace in his injury stunted 2010-11 campaign). A healthy Marco Sturm will be a great option on the second PP unit which was surprisingly weak considering the Nux finished the year on top of PP officiancy. Lapierre and Oreskovich even could benefit with some extra time in the formative parts of the Nux 2011-12 season. Heck, if they finally convert Hodgson to the winger he should be at the NHL level then he could be in the Calder trophy discussion.
Of course the big detractor for the Nux offensively might not be a forward at all but infact the loss of Christian Ehrhoff on the back end and first PP unit. As of yet there isn't really a replacement for him but Alex Edler should be able to step up and fill the void. I would love to see Kevin Connauton get a chance to see if he can fill that void.
Arguably, yes, every one of the Nux' forward corps could have a better year than last, even points leader Daniel Sedin, and that's a scary thought for opponents.
Anyone who thinks the Canucks window of opportunity to win is narrowed by the injuries that beset them is plain wrong. The way I see it it has actually only begun to open.